Sony's PlayStation VR should have a monumental advantage in mainstream consumer adoption. But can the final consumer version overcome the severe limitations we ran into in our pre-release demos? Here's how it stacks up next to the PC-based Oculus Rift.
You'll find some plastic – and a fair amount of fabric – on the Rift and nothing but plastic on PSVR.
If you don't yet know where Sony's adoption head start is going to come from, this is it. Well over 40 million PlayStation 4s have been sold since its late 2013 launch. How many VR-ready gaming PCs have customers bought? We can't say exactly, but we can guarantee it's only a tiny fraction of that.
On the other hand, the Rift has a huge horsepower advantage.
You'll need Windows on your gaming PC to use the Rift.
Base station price
Before last week, this number would have been much higher for the Rift, but the new Asynchronous Spacewarp tech allows cheaper PCs to power the Rift. It does this by requiring the graphics card to produce a mere 45 FPS feed, while displaying the output at a VR-friendly 90 FPS. How? By analyzing two sequential frames and creating an approximation of the missing frame that would fall between.
If PC-based VR is ever going to go mainstream, it's moves like this that will have led the way.
Last week Oculus previewed a standalone Rift prototype that loses the wires. That's probably still a ways off, though, as both of these systems drag cords behind them as you move around.
Field of view
The Rift has the higher field of view, though we haven't found PSVR's FOV to be one of the issues plaguing the headset.
The Rift has the sharper resolution and games will generally look sharper and more defined on both the Rift and Vive. This is due not just to resolution, but to the more powerful hardware powering it.
OLED display panels are standard in VR.
Here's about the only spec that PSVR wins, with its maximum 120 Hz refresh rate. It will also support a 90 FPS mode as well, to keep things flexible for developers.
Both headsets use optical sensors to track your movement. This means that, unlike with the Gear VR, when you move your body or even just lean your upper body, you move and lean within the virtual world.
Unlike the Vive, both of these systems use camera-based sensors to track your position in space.
Both headsets support motion controls, though Oculus Touch doesn't launch until early December.
This is PSVR's Achilles' heel. The tracking accuracy of the PS Move wands doesn't come anywhere near Oculus Touch or the Vive's controllers. It's choppy and erratic enough that it breaks the core illusion of virtual reality.
Motion control price
On the other hand, PS Move is dirt-cheap compared to Touch. You will also, though, need to buy a $50 PlayStation 4 Camera to use with PSVR.
Sony is also selling a $499 bundle that includes headset, controllers and camera.
Since the PlayStation camera can track both the front and back of the PSVR headset, it can provide 360-degree tracking without adding any sensors behind you.
The Rift can also support 360 VR if you buy a third positional sensor for US$79 (one is included with the Rift and a second will ship with the Touch controls).
Oculus will soon have a boundary system, similar to the Vive's Chaperone, called Guardian. The lack of an equivalent on PSVR rules out true room-scale in Sony's system.
The Rift ships with an Xbox One gamepad, while the PS4 (not the PSVR itself) includes a DualShock 4 controller. Both platforms offer a choice of both gamepad-based and hand-controller-based titles.
You can wear glasses under both headsets, but it's going to be much more comfortable with PlayStation VR, which hangs down in front of your face like a visor. My glasses feel pretty cramped, and sometimes borderline painful, with the Oculus Rift.
Only the Rift has built-in headphones. You'll need to use your own pair with Sony's headset.
PlayStation VR is ready to roll right now, while the Rift has been around since late March (though only widely available, without delay, for a couple months).
Looking at the headsets alone, the Rift comes out $200 more expensive. However, the Rift is not only the better headset, it also includes a gamepad and sensor. The PlayStation 4 Camera will cost you an extra $50 or so.
Total starting price
The grand total for headset, base station, controllers and sensors also comes out in Sony's advantage. And keep in mind this price for the Rift includes the upcoming lower-powered (45 FPS) PCs that start at $499. For native 90 FPS rendering, you can add another few hundreds bucks onto its side of the column.